On October 24th, Taylor Caswell, NH Department of Business and Economic Affairs Commissioner, addressed the Rotary Club of Nashua regarding building a vibrant NH economy. Taylor Caswell’s bio can be found at https://www.nheconomy.com/about-us/bea-commissioner. Taylor opened by sharing his own story about Gerry Prunier, concluding that just the mention of Gerry’s name could make things happen. He then dove into an overview of what’s happening in the economic space in New Hampshire and the role that his department is playing.
For many years, NH’s economic development fell was part of DRED, an unfortunate abbreviation for the Department of Resources and Economic Development. In 2016, was asked to take a look at how the state could do things a little better with our economic planning. His recommendation was that a significant and deliberate approach was needed, which resulted in a legislative initiative and ultimately led to the new Department of BEA. As a result of this, a multitude of areas directly impacting economic development, such as tourism, international commerce, workforce development, and marketing are all now all under one roof.
In 2020 – peak COVID – the department’s role pivoted quickly and decisively to one focused on business support – when would businesses be open, how to manage closings, the public health impact on businesses, etc., issues that they were dealing with for the first time ever. The department established a “reopening task force” in April 2020, before many businesses were even closed. He actively reached out to the business community as part of this taskforce’s work, trying to understand the challenges that businesses were already facing and the new challenges they were likely to face in the months ahead. This gave them a leg up when the state received $1.25 billion in Cares Act funding which they then needed to utilize and deploy. As a result of their approach, NH saw one of the fastest rebounds in the nation.
Now we’re largely out of COVID, and the department is once again focused on workforce as its #1 issue. This isn’t new, it was very much at the forefront pre-COVID. New Hampshire has a very low unemployment rate, bouncing around 2%. The hospitality industry is particularly hard hit by this, with lots of ripple effect. Restaurants can’t hire, hotel can hire but their guests have nowhere to go out to eat or for entertainment. This highlights the interconnectedness of our economy and it led to the development of the state’s economic recovery and expansion strategy (which can be found at https://www.nheconomy.com/eres).
Another area of interdependence is housing. If you can find employees but they can’t find a place to live, that’s an issue. So the department is also working on housing issues, because communities are stronger when people can both work and live locally. Yet another issue is broadband – access to high speed internet is critical, for employees who need/want to work remotely, for businesses trying to run credit card transactions or who have an online shop. It affects housing prices (if one street has it and another doesn’t, the houses with it can command a higher price).
Taylor closed by noting that he treasures the partnerships the department has with many in the room, and he looks forward to continuing to grow a strong, viable economy for New Hampshire.